Tuesday, September 23, 2014

the Church Has Left the Building: Loving the Seeker

Love the World:  Loving the Seeker                                   9/21/14
Genesis 12:1-4, John 3:1-21, Romans 4:18-25

Last year, we participated in a program entitled “The Church Has Left the Building”.  We had a series of sermons that equipped us to go out on a Sunday and worship as we worked.  We had 33 participants, which was fantastic.  We ended the evening in worship at Flemington Presbyterian with a few hundred other brothers and sisters from various congregations.  My hope is that we will participate again this year in the Church has Left the Building program.

Why?  Because it is good to take a step of faith once in a while, to challenge ourselves, and to love our neighbor practically and without any thing given back to us.

This year’s theme is Love the World.   It is a command to be godly, to love the world that God loves, so much love that he gave us Jesus Christ, that whoever would believe will have everlasting life.  This fall, we will consider different types of people that God loves, and that we are called to love.  These include, the seeker, the rejected, discouraged, outcast, the invisible and dejected.  Today, we consider loving the Seeker.

The word seeker is word that the modern church has used to describe someone who is serious enough about establishing a relationship with God, or becoming spiritual, but not so serious that they are ready to commit to a local congregation as a member, or to the path of discipleship as a believer.  Admittedly, this is an unusual choice for the word from both a biblical perspective and plain definition of the word.  The definition of seek is to go in search of, to look for, to try to discover.  In the Bible, to seek is to display faith, not to wonder about entering faith. Jesus taught his disciples, Seek and Ye Shall Find, which echoes the Hebrew Scripture, where young Solomon is directed “If you seek God, he will be found by you”.  The Psalms teach us that to seek God leads to rejoicing, seeking is something done always, with all our heart. (105:3, 4, 110:2).  In fact, those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (34:10).  The Prophet Amos says “Seek the LORD and live”, and Hosea corals the sheep by saying “It is time to seek the Lord”.   Jesus says to seek first the kingdom of God.  

And so from the Biblical perspective, seeker is almost another name for Christian:  We are Christians, worshippers, seekers.  It isn’t about that person coming in close enough to see what Christ is all about before saying yes to God.  It is the person who sees what Christ is all about, and increases their devotion more and more because deep down they know.

Yet, there is this word, Seeker, and modern church sociologists have given it a certain nuance, to mean someone who is looking, who is searching and who is restless. It implies that the search has been long, and at times difficult.  Perhaps hurt and failure have weighed down that weary soul.  Perhaps harsh experiences and social rejection have caused a little wariness before jumping in with all one’s heart. 

And if that is the case, our job is simple; To love that person.  To love the seeker.  We are not to make demands upon them, or question why they don’t just believe more, or do better at seeking, or pick a church and stay there.  We love them.  That is the best gift.  That is the gift God gave all of us in Jesus Christ.

Our morning Scripture focus on two different people, who sought.  They were seekers in the classic meaning of the word:  They were people on a search.  They were willing to risk comfort to find meaning.  They saw the light of God and wanted more of it.  They tried to discover.  Neither were perfect in their seeking.  But both displayed a faith worth remembering, and imitating.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee who was a member of the ruling council.  This wasn’t a mere outsider.  He was without a doubt part of the inner circle of the jewish faith and power.  He was a representative of the largest party within the faith, the Pharisees, who strictly adhered to the Law, and the holiness of observing the law.  They were separatist when it came to a world that might tolerate Judaism as one of many options.  But their orders and devotion belonged to One much higher.   Now Jesus challenged the Pharisees.  So much so that a surface reading of the Bible it would be difficult to not have a negative image of the Pharisees.

And yet, there was Nicodemus.  He had heard Jesus teach, including the challenges to his party.  And while he might have carried the membership card, he was more interested in the beauty and holiness and truth and grace of Jesus.  Not yet ready to declare allegiance, he at least wants to meet with Jesus.  And so he goes at night to see him.  Jesus, you must be from God, because you couldn’t do what you are doing without being from God.”

To which Jesus replied to him, you can’t see God’s kingdom unless you are born again.  To a member of the Ruling Council of the largest party within Judaism, going back to birth must have seemed so foreign, perhaps even initially insulting.  He was grown and established.  Even if I could, why would I enter the womb a second time?

There is some back and forth, but essentially, Jesus teaches that we are born physically, but that we must be born spiritually.  And spiritual birth is the work of the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus teaches the teacher, calling upon an old story from the time of Moses…the people had complained to God one too many times, and God sent some snakes to bite the people. The people realize they had pushed too far, and ask Moses to intervene.  God gives Moses a command to put a bronze snake on a tall pole. If the people looked up, literally, they would live.  They had to look up, they had to have faith.  There was no other way.

Jesus then shares that he is like the bronze serpent.  People will need to look to him, to be rescued from the poison of their complaining and the vanity of their life.  But do not worry, God had sent Jesus for this reason, that if you believe, you will not perish, but have everlasting life.

Nicodemus did believe.  He did receive eternal life.  Perhaps not that night, we don’t know.  Maybe he had to go home and chew on Jesus’ words a little.  Maybe it took him a couple of months of wrestling, or maybe over a year of vainly trying to fit Jesus’ teaching into his preconceived notions of the world.  But in John 20, after Jesus had died on the cross, it is Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who risked everything to go to Pilate, and ask for the body of Jesus, and to give Jesus a reverent and proper burial.  Their devotion is remembered in Holy Scripture.   In the darkest moment in history, Nicodemus had remembered a dark night when he had encountered the light of the Savior.  His seeking a few years earlier equipped him to serve the Lord even if it meant the most powerful empire of the world would come after him, or even if life as he had known it, would not ever be the same.

The second individual from our morning readings is Abraham.  He is far more familiar, one of the great characters of Scripture.   

Abraham is perhaps the ultimate seeker.  Both in literal distance traveled and time allotted before he saw God’s promise to him.  In our story, Abram is 75 years old when he starts part two of the journey.

Part two?

Well, yes, part two.  In the last verses of Genesis chapter 11, we learn some details of the life of Terah, Abraham’s father.  Terah has three sons, Abram, Nahor and Haran.  Haran has a son, his name is Lot.  But Haran dies.  He dies in what is modern day Iraq in a city named Ur.  It was quite an important and successful ancient city, with lots of archeological evidence of a thriving place in the time of Abraham.  Terah suffered the death of his son while in this place.  His other two sons go on to marry, Abram to Sarai and Nahor to Milcah.  Nahor and Milcah have children.  Abram and Sarai do not.

The Bible says that Terah, the father, Abram, Sarai and Lot set out from Ur to go to Canaan.  To go to Canaan was the plan all along.  But when they came to Haran, they settled there.  Yes, the name of the city where they settled was the same name as Terah’s deceased son. (though it should be noted that some scholars believe the name of the city is actually Haranu, or Charran).  The name means road, because it was crossroad city for trade routes.  But if nothing else, it is interesting that the traveling family cannot get past Haran.  They settle there.

Terah lives the rest of his life in Haran.  Apparently, he becomes quite successful, if he hadn’t already been successful in Ur.  But after his death, Abram receives that call from God, leave here, and go the land I will show you.  Go to the promised land.

There I will make you a great nation and bless you. 
There I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.
I’ll bless those who bless you.
I’ll curse those who curse you.
All the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.

So at 75, when I’m sure Abram had at least a slight level of personal satisfaction and contentment, He went.  He went with Sarai and Lot, and “all the possessions they had accumulated” and “the people they had acquired in Haran”.  One might have a mental image of Abraham and Sarah, riding a camel alone through the desert.  But that was not the case.  It was a large caravan, after a successful way of life at the crossroad city of Haran.

The Scripture says that they did arrive in Canaan.  The journey, though long, and including an extended, multi-year unplanned stay, was complete.  The seekers arrived.  And from that place, there are many other opportunities for Abram to seek.  The most obvious opportunity was for that hole in Abram and Sarai’s heart for a child.  But they were too old for that, weren’t they?

In the Book of Romans, Paul gives insight into Abraham, the great seeker of God.  The one who believed God, and that belief was credited to him as righteousness in God’s presence.

19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Today we think about seekers.  And we think about Nicodemus, seeking Christ in the darkness, and we think about Abraham, seeking the LORD throughout a long journey.  What should we do with these stories for our life and time?

First, we should love our neighbor as we would love ourselves.  This might include opportunities to walk alongside, or welcome, or converse with a seeker.  We should welcome people who stop in for a spiritual glass of water in their desert wanderings.  We might not see them again.  Or they might stay for just a short time.  Our job is to be respectful enough to meet that person where they are, and be confident enough to invite them to meet the one who will transform their life.

Second, as a congregation, if we have settled in Haran, and are really supposed to be in Canaan, then we should get up and seek God’s call upon us.  We may have even stayed in Haran long enough to be comfortable, perhaps successful, but where is God calling us:  that is the place we want to be.

Finally, let us be seekers, in the classic and biblical sense of the word.  Let us go in search of the Lord, let us go to look for Jesus in the darkness of our experience, let us try to discover once again, that love of our Lord.  For, if the Bible is true,
if we seek, then we shall find.

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